Journalist Deniz Yücel's detention was illegal, rules Turkish court

The year-long detention of Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel was illegal and robbed him of his personal freedom and security, in addition to his freedom of speech and freedom of the press, the country’s Constitutional Court ruled on Friday.

The judges, in a unanimous decision,  found no grounds for a lower court's decision to jail the former Turkey correspondent for the German daily Die Welt after prosecutors claimed he was spreading propaganda for an illegal organization, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported.

Yücel spent nearly one year behind bars after being detained on terrorism and propaganda charges in February 2017 over an interview with outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Cemil Bayık, as part of a Turkish government’s crackdown following the July 2016 coup attempt. The journalist, released from released from jail in Feb. 2018 pending trial, has since returned to Germany.

The PKK has been at war in Turkey for autonomy for over 30 years and is designated a terrorist organisation by Ankara, the United States and the EU.

"Persecuting or punishing a journalist for things an interview partner says would greatly hamper the media's ability to publicly discuss relevant topics," Deutsche Welle quoted the judges as saying.

The former Die Welt correspondent claimed he was tortured while in custody, an issue judges did not address. Yücel was awarded 25,000 lira (€3,800 / $4,320) in damages. 

In series of tweets outlining the case, Yücel blamed the fiasco at the very highest levels of the Turkish government, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

 Noting that he appreciated the court's decision, Yücel said it arrived far too late.

"I received no justice with this verdict," he said. "Justice delayed is not justice. €3,800 cannot erase the fact that my family and I were robbed a year of our lives, a thousand times that amount could not bring it back."

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told German newspaper Welt that the Turkish court’s decision affirmed important fundamental guarantees regarding freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

"We hope the judges' opinion will be a good sign for journalists in Turkey," Maas said.

Veysel Ok, Yücel’s lawyer weighed in on the ruling, stating, "Based on this decision, one must release all journalists that have been persecuted for the simple reason that their reporting and commentaries on subjects like the Kurdish conflict or the coup are different from the opinion of the government."

 Turkey placed 157th out of 180 countries on World Press Freedom Index ranking in 2018 by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Turkey remains to be the "world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists" according to the same report, with more 150 currently behind bars.